PuzzleNation 2021 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide: By Price

Welcome to the PuzzleNation Blog 2021 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide!

hpgg tangram candle

We’re so excited to be bringing you our biggest ever gift guide! There are so many tremendously fun and puzzly products to share with you this year. We just might be your one-stop shop for all things puzzly!

In this edition of the Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, we have endeavored to strike a balance between the most affordable price we could find for each product and the most reliable outlet to get your gifts to you in time for the holidays!

Please enjoy this assortment of dice games, puzzle games, brain teasers, card games, puzzle books, group & party games, murder mysteries, escape room games, puzzles by mail, and board games, all organized in price from lowest to highest. We’re sure you’ll find the right gift for any puzzler on your list!

Any amounts in Pounds have been placed where they’d land roughly when converted to dollars. And please note that shipping is not factored into any of these prices.

Happy puzzling!

This year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is sponsored by Daily POP Crosswords!

Daily POP Crosswords offers a different themed puzzle every single day, spanning everything from TV and film to sports and music!

Available for both Android and iOS users, you get terrific content from some of the world’s top constructors! And the download is free!

Puzzle Books, Magazines, and Puzzle bundles

Since most of the puzzle books, magazines, and puzzle bundles in this year’s gift guide are between $5 and $15, and most subscription services are between $15 and $30 per year, we figured we’d bundle them all up front before we get into all of the games, puzzles, and other terrific holiday treats!

Pencil-and-paper puzzles are alive and well, and we’re happy to share some of our favorites with you.

new ppd banner

Our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles have put together some outstanding holiday collections with puzzles galore to be solved!

Maybe you’re looking for one kind of puzzle, like their Logic Problems Spectacular 5-Pack ($16.95), the Crossword Extravaganza collection ($7.99), or a value pack of Jumble puzzles ($13.95)! Maybe you’d like the ease of printing puzzles at home with Print N’ Solve Seasonal Crosswords ($2.99). Either way, the folks at Penny Dell Puzzles have got you covered.


They have some new offers just in time for the holidays, like their upcoming Winter Fun Pack. Plus their Peanuts line of Word Seek puzzles is available in both Subscription ($25.97 for 1 year) and Print ‘n Solve versions ($4.25 per issue)!

And be sure to check out their deals on Facebook and Twitter throughout the holiday season. They’ve got bundles and discounts for days!

And while we’re on the topic of puzzle books, some of the best constructors working today have released their own books for your perusal! And with New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and USA Today crosswords to their credit, you’re sure to find some quality puzzlers within these pages!

–Doug Peterson and Jeff Chen’s It’s So Easy Crosswords ($9.95)

–Paolo Pasco’s Crossword Puzzles For Kids ($9.99)

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks: More Than 100 Bite-Size Puzzles for Every Solver ($8.49)

–David Steinberg’s Juicy Crosswords from the Orange County Register ($11.33)

–Brendan Emmett Quigley’s Octopus Crosswords ($6.95)

–Matt Gaffney’s Fast & Fun Mini Crosswords ($7.95)

–Andrew Ries’s Maverick Crosswords ($5.97)

–Todd McClary’s Fresh Freestyle Crosswords ($7.74)

–Erik Agard’s Food for Thought Crosswords ($9.95)

USA Today’s Crossword Super Challenge 3 ($9.99)

–Frasier Simpson’s Cryptic Crosswords Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3 ($10.95 each)

–Cynthia Morris’s CynAcrostics Volume 6: Imagine That! (Volume 7 coming soon!) and American Acrostics Volume 9: Amazing American Women ($9.95 each)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Pocket Posh Sixy Sudoku Easy to Medium and Pocket Posh Sixy Sudoku Hard ($8.99 each)

USA Today’s Sudoku Super Challenge 3 and Sudoku and Variants Super Challenge ($9.99 each)

–Andy Kravis’s Challenge Accepted!: 100 Word Searches ($7.76)

–Shawn Marie Simmons’s 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Comics Lovers and 25 Word Search Puzzles for Classic Literature Lovers ($8 each)

USA Today’s Word Fill-In Puzzles Super Challenge ($9.99)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Posh Take Care: Creative Challenge ($12.99)

–Oliver Roeder’s The Riddler: Fantastic Puzzles from FiveThirtyEight ($14.77)

–Andrews McMeel Publishing’s Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for PeaceTake Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for ClarityTake Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Tranquility, and Take Care by Posh: Inspired Activities for Balance [featuring crosswords and other puzzles] ($8.99 each)

And that doesn’t even cover the many great email and downloadable puzzle books and sets available this holiday season!

Many top constructors and organizations market their puzzles directly to solvers, so between email subscriptions and downloadable puzzle bundles, you’ve got plenty of quality choices!

The Crosswords Club Digital (six crossword puzzles per month, $42.95 per year) [also available in print, details below]

The American Values Crossword (subscription and daily puzzles, $22 for 1 year)

The Inkubator, edited by Laura Braunstein and Tracy Bennett (crossword puzzles constructed exclusively by women, three puzzles a month, $30 for 1 year)

–Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest (starts at $3 per month on Patreon)

–Peter Gordon’s Fireball Crosswords ($32 for 1 year)

Crucinova crossword puzzles (weekly puzzles, $4.99 per month, $29.99 per year)

–Andrew Ries’ Aries Freestyle themeless crosswords ($15 per year), and Aries Rows Garden ($30 per year) [available as a bundle together for $40]

–Joon Pahk’s Rows Garden puzzles ($20 for 1 year) and Variety puzzles ($15 for 1 year) OR get both for $30!

–Paolo Pasco’s Expansion Pack crossword suite (pay what you want for the base set, $10 for the XL version)

–Eric Berlin’s Puzzlesnacks puzzles ($3 per month) and Puzzlesnacks Plus bundle ($7.99)

–Bryant Park 2018 tournament puzzle pack ($5) and 2016/2017 bundle ($10) [$12 for both!]

Boswords 2020 Fall Puzzle Packet ($10) and previous puzzle packets ($5-10 each)

Topple variety puzzle magazine ($1 per issue)


Also, there are some wonderful puzzle bundles available in exchange for donations to worthy causes!

Grids for Good, a 42-puzzle bundle supporting coronavirus relief and groups fighting systemic racism

Queer Qrosswords 2, a 32-crossword bundle supporting LGBTQ+ charities and organizations

Women of Letters, an 18-crossword bundle by female constructors in support of women’s rights causes

–Enrique Henestroza Anguiano’s Mexican Midis, a 5-puzzle bundle supporting COVID relief

And now, without further ado, here is our price-sorted list of puzzly delights for you and yours!

$10 and Under


Star Trek Fluxx: The Archer Expansion and The Porthos Expansion (Looney Labs, card game)

Star Trek is an ever-expanding universe of stories, heroes, adventures, and questions to explore, so it’s only fitting that the ever-changing card game Fluxx has a host of Star Trek-themed card decks for you to try out. Whether you’re a fan of The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, or Voyager, there’s a Fluxx deck stacked with your favorite characters, villains, and pivotal moments from each show. ($20 each)

And now you can combine and cross over those decks and play Fluxx like never before with The Archer Expansion and The Porthos Expansion. These small additional decks not only introduce characters from the show Enterprise to the mix, but they allow new rules for mixing up decks and new paths to victory. Plus they add the beloved pets Porthos and Spot to the game! ($5.00 each)

And if Star Trek isn’t your style, maybe you’d enjoy Fantasy Fluxx, Wonderland Fluxx, Astronomy Fluxx, or any of the other marvelous variations on this classic quick-changing card game! ($16 each)

[Our review for the Porthos and Archer Expansions can be found here!]

Zendo Expansion Packs 1 and 2 (Looney Labs, puzzle game)

Zendo challenges you to arrange Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and then see if those designs conform to a mysterious rule. Essentially, you’re trying to deduce what the secret rule is by building different designs.

And if you need additional rules to spice up your Zendo game, these two expansion packs offer new twists for all difficulty ranks, adding new wrinkles to an already devious game! ($5 each)

[Check out our full review for Zendo here and our review of Expansion Pack #2 here!]


Block Chain (ThinkFun, brain teaser)

These linked four-sided blocks can be rotated, spun, tilted, and overlapped. But can you twist and arrange them into a single cube where every face fits a pattern or a path? That’s the challenge of Block Chain, ThinkFun’s delightful twisty puzzle that lets you tinker, twist, and swing each of the three linked blocks into various positions! ($5.99)

[Check out our review here!]


Flying Colors coloring book (Penny Press, miscellaneous puzzle swag)

Our puzzly pals at Penny Press know that sometimes, you need a break from puzzles, so why not unwind with their Flying Colors coloring book ($6.99).


Pocket Brainteasers (ThinkFun, brain teaser)

How good is your spatial awareness? You’re about to find out with this quartet of puzzlers, each its own obstacle for you to overcome. Can you reposition the four pieces into a smaller space in 4-T Puzzle or the wi-fi bars of Rec-Tangle into a new arrangement? Can you separate the 4-Piece Jigsaw, or combine the four chairs into The Fifth Chair? These bite-sized brain teasers will certainly keep you guessing. ($6.99 each)

[Click here to check out our review of all four Pocket Brainteasers!]


I’d Rather Be Puzzling travel mug (Penny Press, miscellaneous puzzle swag)

After a long day of puzzling, or while pondering a devious clue, sip some coffee from a snazzy I’d Rather Be Puzzling Travel Mug ($7.95).

Coaster Games (The Dark Imp, party/group game)

Coaster Games is a six-pack of games encompassing all sorts of gameplay styles. Counting, word building, deduction, strategy, resource management, and more, and they all fit in your pocket. Perfect for parties or quickplay fun between longer game sessions, you’re guaranteed to find something to enjoy here! (£6.99)

[Find our review of Coaster Games here!]


Countaloupe (Bananagrams, dice game)

A card game and a dice game in one, test your luck and your math skills with Countaloupe! Two to four players each have a deck of slice cards, numbered from one to sixteen. Your goal is to roll the dice and discard slice cards from your deck faster than your opponents. Will you savor the fruits of your mathematical labors, or will others enjoy the sweet taste of victory? ($9.99)

[Our review of Countaloupe can be found here!]

Scrimish (Nexci, card game)

Combine the card game War with elements of Chess and Memory, and you’ve got something approximating Scrimish, a card game that’s effortless to learn, but offers endless possibilities. Can you protect your crown card while hunting down your opponent’s? With cards for both defense and offense, there’s a lot packed into just 25 cards apiece! ($9.99)

[Check out our full product review of Scrimish by clicking here!]


Timeline (Zygomatic Games, card game)

Timeline pits your knowledge of history against a growing timeline of important events, inventions, and historical moments. You don’t have to know exact dates; you just need to know if something happened before or after something else. Was the toothbrush invented before or after the syringe? Which came first, language or agriculture? Timeline is a fast, fun way of learning (or relearning) history! ($9.99)

$20 and Under


Cryptogram Puzzle Post (Jack Fallows, puzzle by mail)

A combination of different puzzles and encrypted messages interwoven together with bits of narrative, each edition of the Cryptogram Puzzle Post is a standalone story steeped in mystery and supernatural elements. But solve them all together, and a grand universe of storytelling unfolds. Sold in seasonal bundles and annual subscriptions, this episodic puzzly adventure is quite unique. (£7.50 for single issues, £20 and up for seasonal bundles and collections)


Exit: The Game: Dead Man on the Orient Express (Kosmos, escape room/solve the mystery game)

Exit: The Game products create an escape room experience by combining a deck of cards, a guidebook, a sliding decoder ring, an interactive phone app, and miscellaneous items to be used throughout the game. What sets Dead Man on the Orient Express above and beyond is that there’s a mystery to solve in the background, even as you tackle all the delightful escape room-style puzzles! ($10.59)


Codenames (Czech Games, card game)

It’s a race against time to locate all of your spies before your opponents. But in order to do so, you need to communicate information with a single word. Codenames will put your word association skills to work as you try to find secret agents disguised with code words, while avoiding innocent citizens and dangerous assassins along the way! ($11.49)

[Read our full review of Codenames here!]


Lexicon-GO! (Winning Moves UK, puzzle game)

Are you a word-forming pro? Take your speed-solving skills and try them out with Lexicon-GO!, a Scrabble-style tile game suitable for solvers of all ages. And those very distinctive letter tiles are available in more ways than ever! You can enjoy Lexicon-GO! in its classic form, in Harry Potter style, or in famous Jumble style! ($11.89 in classic form)

[Click here for our full review of Lexicon-GO!]


Unlock!: Squeek and Sausage (Asmodee, escape room/solve the mystery game)

Unlock! games consist of entirely of a deck of cards and your app. The cards provide locations, challenges, helpful items, solutions, and warnings, all identified with numbered or lettered cards in the deck. And while there are numerous Unlock! escape games to try — covering everything from haunted houses to desert islands — we recommend the mad scientist-fueled Squeek and Sausage, which is enjoyably silly and still a satisfying challenge! ($11.99)


The Oregon Trail (Pressman Toys, card game)

The classic computer game comes to life as you and your fellow players team up to survive the perilous journey along The Oregon Trail. With art evoking old-school computer games, rampant threats and calamities to endure, and a long and challenging road to travel, will any of you will make it to Oregon? ($12.79)

[Check out our full product review of The Oregon Trail by clicking here!]


Pass the Pugs (Winning Moves UK, dice game)

A classic tumbling game gets a delightfully charming new update in Pass the Pugs! Collect points based on how the pugs land and race your opponents to 100 points. Will you push your luck and risk your points on additional rolls, or will you “paws” and keep the points you have? (£9.99)

top trumps 2021

Friends Top Trumps and James Bond Top Trumps: Gadgets & Vehicles (Winning Moves UK, card game)

Do you enjoy the sitcom Friends? Or the world of James Bond? No matter what your favorite subject or pop culture franchise, Top Trumps is ready and waiting with a sharply packaged game full of question-fueled competition. Each team opens their drawer on the carrying case and removes five cards, all with the potential to stump their opponents. Will your team triumph or will the other team’s trivia smarts win the day? (£10.00 each)

Tenzi (dice game)

All of us have rolled dice in games before, but can you roll what you need as fast as possible? That’s the challenge of Tenzi, a game that pits up to four players against each other in tests of speed and dexterity. Can you roll ten 6’s before everyone else? ($14.95)

cold case

Cold Case: A Story to Die For and Cold Case: A Pinch of Murder (ThinkFun, escape room / solve the mystery game)

In these mystery puzzle games, you pick up a cold case where the investigation left off, rifling through police interview transcripts, evidence, photographs, and more! Can you solve the murder of a dead journalist or find out what happened to a woman missing from a church bake sale? With an interactive online submission form to test your solution, these ThinkFun murder mysteries are a fascinating bit of hands-on puzzling and crime solving! ($14.99 each)

[Check out our spoiler-free reviews of A Story to Die For and A Pinch of Murder!]


Smart10 (Bananagrams, party/group game)

Can you pick one correct answer from a field of possibilities? Smart10 challenges you and a group of friends to do just that by selecting correct answers from a list of possible responses. It’s tougher than it sounds, and it’ll test your trivia skills and your ability to think under pressure. ($14.99)

[Check out our full review here!]


Wish You Were Here (The Enigma Emporium, puzzle by mail)

Imagine an entire mystery hidden across a handful of postcards. That’s the multilayered puzzle experience offered by Wish You Were Here, where a series of coded messages awaits you. Unravel all the secrets and discover an exciting tale of danger and spycraft along the way! ($15)

[And if you enjoy Wish You Were Here, there are all sorts of additional puzzle bundles to try out!]

The Abandons (Puzzling Pixel Games, board game)

Can you escape a dangerous labyrinth that changes every time you explore it? The Abandons pits the solver against a random deck, where luck, quick decision making, and puzzly skill all must be on your side if you ever want to see daylight again. ($15)

[Check out our full review by clicking here!]

Deluxe Pairs (Hip Pocket Games/Greater Than Games, card game)

Building on the legacy already established by the bar-friendly series of Pairs decks available, Deluxe Pairs offers a new artistic spin on the classic Pairs “Fruit Deck,” as well as a companion booklet with rules for numerous Pairs variants you can play with the deck! This isn’t just one card game, it’s dozens! ($17)

[Click here for our full review of Deluxe Pairs!]


Enigmas Puzzle Hunt Playing Cards (David Kwong/Dave Shukan, escape room / solve the mystery game)

A puzzle hunt lurking within a normal deck of cards? It sounds impossible, but when you’re dealing with puzzler and magician David Kwong, anything can happen with Enigmas! Can you unravel the mystery hiding amongst these playing cards? ($18)


Word Nerd mug (Penny Press, miscellaneous puzzle swag)

Get ready for a cozy day of puzzling with this sturdy and bright Word Nerd Mug ($19).

Slapzi (Tenzi, party/group game)

Slapzi will keep you on your toes. In this quick-reaction game, you’ve got to match your picture cards to the clue cards before your opponents. But with clues like “Not sold in a hardware store” or “Two of the same letter together,” this isn’t as easy as it appears! ($19.95)

[Click here to check out our full review of Slapzi!]

codex small

Caesar’s Codex (Project Genius, brain teaser)

Just slide the four coded levers into place and open the box. Sounds simple, right? When you’re talking about Caesar’s Codex, one of the brain teasers from the True Genius collection, what appears simple quickly becomes a proper puzzly challenge. There are over 4,000 possible combinations! Can you discover the correct one? ($19.99)

[Check out our review of Caesar’s Codex here!]


12 Days (Calliope Games, card game)

A proper holiday-themed game for the holidays? You betcha. This wagering game, based on the 12 Days of Christmas, has some of the most beautiful art in the entire card game genre. Plus the two ways to earn points — winning each day of Christmas with the lowest card in the pot vs. keeping as many of a certain value card as possible for the end of the game — offer tons of strategic opportunities in a simple card game. What a treat! ($20)


Star Trek Fluxx (Looney Labs, card game)

Star Trek is an ever-expanding universe of stories, heroes, adventures, and questions to explore, so it’s only fitting that the ever-changing card game Fluxx has a host of Star Trek-themed card decks for you to try out. Whether you’re a fan of The Original Series, The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, or Voyager, there’s a Fluxx deck stacked with your favorite characters, villains, and pivotal moments from each show. ($20 each)

Also be sure to check out The Archer Expansion and The Porthos Expansion packs to combine different Star Trek Fluxx decks for a whole new game experience! ($5.00 each)

And if Star Trek isn’t your style, maybe you’d enjoy Fantasy Fluxx, Wonderland Fluxx, Astronomy Fluxx, or any of the other marvelous variations on this classic quick-changing card game! ($16 each)

[Check out our full reviews of Star Trek Fluxx, Star Trek TNG Fluxx, and Star Trek Voyager Fluxx here!]

$30 and Under

Decrypto (IELLO, party/group game)

Can you covertly communicate with your teammates without revealing your secret code to the opponent team? That’s the name of the game in Decrypto, a party game all about word association and deduction. The first team to crack the opposing team’s codes twice wins! ($20.32)

A-Puzzle-A-Day puzzle calendar (Insync Games, miscellaneous puzzle swag)

Eight puzzle pieces, 365 different puzzles. Now that’s value for your money. Can you place these Tetris-like pieces to tell today’s date, or a favorite date, or any date you choose? (£15.99)

curious correspondence

Curious Correspondence Club (puzzle by mail)

An ongoing episode puzzle adventure, the Curious Correspondence Club helps you assemble and solve an ever-evolving mystery surrounding the Guardians and their hunt for the twelve artifacts. What does it all mean? Check your mail every month for new puzzles, hints, and additions to the story. ($21.95 for single chapters, $60 for 3-chapter collections)

alice is missing

Alice is Missing (Hunters Entertainment, escape room / solve the mystery game)

Can you and your fellow players solve a mystery without ever saying a word? That’s the challenge offered by the uniquely atmospheric and haunting RPG mystery game Alice Is Missing.

A game played entirely through text messaging, each player takes on the role of a character in the town of Silent Falls, trying to find out what happened to Alice Briarwood. We promise, you’ve never played anything like it. ($21.99)


Puzzometry (jigsaw puzzle)

For a next-level jigsaw challenge, Puzzometry is tough to top. These beautiful pieces can be combined in seemingly endless combinations, and yet, there’s only one solution. Available in seven different styles — Puzzometry ($23.50), Puzzometry Jr. ($18.50), Puzzometry Squares ($23.50), Puzzometry Hex ($23.50), Puzzometry Steps ($23.50), Puzzometry Six ($23.50), and Puzzometry Jr. 2 ($18.50) — you’ve got distinct challenges appropriate for all different ages!

[Check out the full review of the original Puzzometry by clicking here!]

minotaur 1

Minotaur’s Labyrinth (Project Genius, brain teaser)

Can you crack this wooden brain teaser? That’s the question posed by Minotaur’s Labyrinth, a mechanical brain teaser where you must maneuver the Minotaur out of the Labyrinth, then flip over the token, and return to the center of the maze! Ready your puzzle skills and your patience, or you’ll be trapped in the Labyrinth forever! ($24.95)

[Check out our review of Minotaur’s Labyrinth here!]


Qwirkle (MindWare, board game)

A wonderful mix of Uno and Mexican Train DominoesQwirkle is a tile-placing game where you try to maximize your points while minimizing the help you give to your opponents. With six bright colors and six different shapes to match up, Qwirkle is endless fun that’s so easy to jump into! ($24.99)


Cracker Games: The Imp Box (The Dark Imp, party/group game)

Six unique family games in a reusable box that looks like a Christmas cracker? What an idea! Voting, collecting, observation, and trading are among the gameplay styles you’ll find in The Imp Box, and this neat little package packs a lot of variety into a small space! (£19.99)

Escape Room Advent Calendar (Insync Games, miscellaneous puzzle swag)

This advent calendar has no numbers on the doors, and solving a daily puzzle is the only way to figure out which door to open! This clever, festive, chocolate-filled treat is a puzzly twist on a holiday classic! (£19.99)


Tavern Puzzles / Tucker-Jones House Inc. (brain teaser)

These hand-forged beauties are ready to challenge your dexterity and cleverness, as you accept the Tavern Puzzles challenge. Whether you’re trying to remove twice as many pieces in a Collaborative Effort or free the triangle from Tridiculous, you’re sure to put your skills to the test. ($27.50 each)


Gloom (Atlas Games, card game)

Do you enjoy The Addams Family or the art of Edward Gorey? Then Gloom might be a strategy game worth checking out. In this tactical game with a sinister twist, you’re trying to make your Victorian family miserable for points and the lives of your opponents’ families better! Yup, misfortune equals good fortune for you! With gorgeous transparent cards you can lay over each other to track your scores, there’s no storytelling game out there quite like it.

With loads of expansions to add to the creepy world of Gloom — and preorders open for the new Gloomier spinoff game — this is hilariously macabre fun! ($27.95)

Spaceteam (Timber and Bolt, card game)

Can you repair your ship and get the engines up and running before a black hole ends your space adventure forever? That’s the name of the game in Spaceteam, a cooperative, communication-based game where you have to accomplish various tasks with your fellow players while sharing tools. It’s delightful chaos, heightened by the five-minute hourglass timer counting down your dwindling seconds before disaster strikes! A definite favorite around here. ($27.95)

$40 and Under


Castellan (Steve Jackson Games, board game)

Build a castle and then occupy it in Castellan, a game of strategy and opportunity. With great modeled pieces that really add to the aesthetic, Castellan has style and substance. ($34.95)

[Check out our full product review here!]

Knot Dice and Knot Dice Squared (Black Oak Games, dice game)

Can you twist, turn, and spin these dice to complete beautiful, elaborate patterns inspired by Celtic knots? That’s the name of the game with Knot Dice, a dice game as challenging as it is gorgeous. With single-player and multi-player puzzles included, you’ll be tying yourself in knots for days! ($35, available in green or blue)

And you can add new wrinkles and patterns to your solving with Knot Dice Squared, an expansion set with 26 additional dice, new rules, and more! ($45)

[Click here to check out our full review of both games!]


Godzilla: Tokyo Clash (Funko Games, board game)

Choose one of these four iconic monsters and let loose your fury all over Tokyo in Godzilla: Tokyo Clash. This tactical monster-vs.-monster game allows you to smash buildings, vehicles, and your fellow monsters on a game board that’s different every time you play! Will you be King of the Monsters by the time Tokyo is in ruins? ($35)

[Check out our full review of Godzilla: Tokyo Clash here!]


Wooden Fractal Tray Puzzles (Martin Raynsford, jigsaw puzzle)

Laser-cut precision and patterns built on fractal designs make these wooden tray puzzles as maddening as they are beautiful. The pieces fall so seamlessly into place that they practically vanish… that is, if you can puzzle out how to place them all into the tray. ($35.99)

Tile Securing Travel Scrabble (Hammacher Schlemmer, board game)

Hammacher Schlemmer has always been home to some intriguing Scrabble variants available — who could forget their World’s Largest Scrabble Game? — but when it comes to travel-friendly puzzle game fun, they’ve got just the thing. Tile Securing Travel Scrabble is perfect for those who want to solve on the go! Take your game anywhere and rest assured not a single tile will have moved! ($39.95)


Cluebox Escape Rooms in a Box: Schrodinger’s Cat (iDventure, brain teaser)

This multi-stage puzzle box (pictured on the right) is completely self-contained. You need to explore every inch of its surface to find clues and tools to unlock each stage of the puzzle box and reveal further challenges. Try to unravel the mystery of Schrodinger’s Cat and test your puzzly mettle! ($39.99)

Tak: A Beautiful Game (Cheapass Games/Greater Than Games, board game)

Many new games build off of classic mechanics, but very few new games truly feel like they could have been played centuries ago. Tak definitely fits that mold, using simple wooden pieces to create a game that feels both fresh and ancient all at once. Inspired by the eponymous game in Patrick Rothfuss’s KingKiller Chronicles series, Tak is a wonderful two-player game that quickly grows addictive. ($40 for University Edition, $59.95 for Classic Edition)

[Click here for our full review of Tak!]

Zendo (Looney Labs, puzzle game)

Puzzle games are all about the rules, but what if you don’t know the rules? That’s where Zendo comes in. In this puzzle game, you arrange Looney pyramids and other shapes into various designs, and then see if those designs conform to a mysterious rule. A game of deduction and trial-and-error, Zendo is a very different solving experience. ($40)

Plus there are two expansion packs available for Zendoeach offering additional rules and varying in difficulty! ($5 each)

[Check out our full review for Zendo here and our review of Expansion Pack #2 here!]


Tsuro: The Game of the Path (Calliope Games, board game)

A path-laying game with tons of style and historical spirit, Tsuro casts up to eight players as flying dragons, and tasks you with laying out your path with special tiles. Try not to meet any other dragons or fly off the board! It’s a simple mechanic with plenty of replay value, and perfect for quick games with large groups. ($40)

Sagrada (Floodgate Games, dice game)

One of the most beautiful strategy games on the market today, Sagrada is a singularly peaceful gaming experience. Compete with other players to build the most beautiful stained glass window, but with dice instead of glass! Unique and challenging, Sagrada is something else. ($40)

The Island of Doctor Lucky (Cheapass Games/Greater Than Games, board game)

People have been trying to kill Doctor Lucky for over twenty years, and this time around, you’re visiting his exotic island estate to try your murderous luck against the titular Doctor! The Island of Doctor Lucky offers a new gameboard to explore, new movement mechanics, and a very distracting cat. This is the best addition to the series yet! ($40)

And if you’re looking for something closer to the classic game, there’s always the Deluxe 24 3/4ths Anniversary edition of Kill Doctor Lucky. ($39.95)

[Check out our full review of The Island of Doctor Lucky by clicking here!]

$50 and Under


Gearjits Roller Coaster (Gearjits, jigsaw puzzle)

Bring your puzzle skills to life as you assemble a working roller coaster from these wooden pieces. Assembling handcranks and gears to operate the machine along with the structure of the roller coaster itself makes this 3-D puzzle more exciting and satisfying than the average 3-D puzzle. ($40.95)


The Crosswords Club (puzzle by mail / email subscription)

A monthly publication with six Sunday-sized crosswords, The Crosswords Club utilizes some of the sharpest crossword constructors in the business today, and the puzzles are all edited by top constructor Patti Varol. Each bundle is as fun as it is challenging, plus each monthly bundle has an extra word game printed right on the envelope! ($42.95 for 12 issues) [Also available in digital format]

escape the room

Escape the Room: The Cursed Dollhouse (ThinkFun, escape room / solve the mystery game)

Can you construct and then escape one of the most fully realized home escape room games on the market today? The Cursed Dollhouse is a diabolical and immersive puzzly experience, encompassing five rooms and a host of different puzzles to unravel in the hopes of escaping a horrible fate! ($42.99)

[Check out our spoiler-free review here!]

bunny kingdom

Bunny Kingdom (IELLO, board game)

There are plenty of board games where you control resources, build cities, and achieve glory. But how many of them let you do that while being BUNNIES? In Bunny Kingdom, a game combining drafting and area control mechanics, each player builds a fiefdom and tries to outmaneuver their fellow players in managing territory, materials, and trade. The most cunning bunny wins with the most points wins and captures the title “Big Ears!” ($48.92)

Pinbox 3000 (Cardboard Teck Instantute, puzzle game)

How about the chance to build your own game? Is that puzzle enough for you? Pinbox 3000 provides all the pieces you’ll need, plus valuable advice for brainstorming and creating your very own pinball game. It’s endlessly customizable, so you can make your Pinbox pinball game as simple or as complex as you like! ($49.95, $54.95 for the Beta Booster Bundle)

Chessplus (board game)

The first thing you learn in chess is how the pieces move. But what if that could change? What if you could make new pieces that move in unexpected ways? How would that change the game? With Chessplus, you’ll find out, as you mix and match chess pieces in order to capture your opponent’s king. The possibilities really are endless! ($49.95)

[Click here for our full review of Chessplus!]


Cluebox Escape Rooms in a Box: Davy Jones’ Locker (iDventure, brain teaser)

This multi-stage puzzle box (on the left) is completely self-contained. Explore every inch of its surface to unlock each stage of the puzzle box and reveal further puzzles. Delve into Davy Jones Locker and solve these nautically themed challenges! ($49.99)

The Great Dinosaur Rush (APE Games, board game)

Bring the insane real-life rivalry of paleontologists Cope and Marsh to life in The Great Dinosaur Rush! As you collect fossils and discover your own unique dinosaur, you must also steal bones, sabotage other scientists, and more! Show off your cunning and creativity in this game that proves historical truth is weirder than fiction! ($50)

$60 and Over


Cheapass Games in Black and White (Cheapass Games/Greater Than Games, board game)

The library of Cheapass Games is expansive, but even diehard fans don’t have the majority of the company’s original game library. Unless, that is, they own Cheapass Games in Black and White, a hardcover compendium of every game from the black-and-white era. Featuring the rulebooks for famous titles like Button Men and Kill Doctor Lucky, alongside more obscure entries like Escape from Elba, this is a terrific resource for any game fan. ($60, but the digital download is FREE!)


Geode Puzzle (Uncommon Goods, jigsaw puzzle)

Forget looking for the edge pieces, because these nature-based puzzles take jigsaws beyond the usual patterning. Geode Puzzle‘s flowing, unusual shapes and vibrant colors create a unique solving experience. ($68)

Lightbox (Eric Clough, brain teaser)

A puzzle box unlike anything you’ve ever seen, Lightbox creates different patterns of shadow and light as you shift and arrange the various plastic plates that make up the box. As you twist and reset them, different electrical connections are made, and different plates light up. As gorgeous as it is challenging, Lightbox is a very eye-catching puzzle that always wows new solvers. ($85)

[Check out our full review of Lightbox by clicking here!]


GolfWords (David L. Hoyt, party/group game)

Combining the skill of golf with a love of wordplay, GolfWords takes puzzles off the page and into your home, testing you both mentally and physically! Complete with the letter mat, putters, golf balls, scoring pads, and other accessories, this unique combination of puzzle and sport can be played solo or by the whole family! ($299.99)

Thank you to all of the constructors, designers, and companies taking part in this year’s holiday puzzly gift guide!


Treat yourself to some delightful deals on puzzles. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

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PN Product Review: Caesar’s Codex and Minotaur’s Labyrinth

Puzzles come in many forms, all shapes and sizes, but there’s probably no puzzle genre that offers more variety and range in difficulty than mechanical brain teasers.

The physical element adds so much to the solving experience that cannot be replicated in other puzzle styles. Whether you’re assembling pieces into a given shape, manipulating two pieces to separate them (or put them together), or twisting and turning a puzzle until it becomes the desired shape, mechanical brain teasers offer a world of possibility.

And in today’s product review, we’ve got two different varieties of brain teaser to test out, all courtesy of the creative minds at Project Genius. Both are part of their True Genius line of wooden brain teasers, rated for ages 14 and up, and each has its own ranking on a scale of 1 to 5 in difficulty.

Without further ado, let’s get solving!

First up, we have this 4-out-of-5-star difficulty puzzle box.

One of the most famous encryption techniques in history is named after Julius Caesar, so it’s quite apropos for Project Genius to name a puzzle box covered in symbols after the historical icon.

Caesar’s Codex is a beautiful wooden box with detailed patterns along all four sides. On the front, the box features four slider bars that can move up and down, each bearing eight different symbols and labeled with a different shape (triangle, star, square, circle).

The box also has a grid on the back depicting a host of different letters and characters, leaning heavily on the concept of encryption.

Your goal is seemingly simple: figure out what arrangement of characters on the four slider bars is required to open the box. But you’ll definitely need to keep your eyes open and your wits about you to unravel the secret behind Caesar’s Codex.

I do feel, though, that the difficulty ranking is too high. Perhaps I’m too accustomed to the tricks of puzzle boxes, but this seems more like a 2-out-of-5 difficulty, 3-out-of-5 at the max. This is a delightful mechanical brain teaser that I would absolutely use to introduce solvers to the world of puzzle boxes.

Now, for a proper 4-out-of-5 difficulty brain teaser, look no further than Minotaur’s Labyrinth.

Inspired by the myth of Theseus, the Minotaur, and the Cretan Labyrinth, solvers must spin and maneuver the Minotaur through the maze. But this is far more than simply a matter of choosing the correct path.

Playing around with the Minotaur piece involves figuring out how to navigate both the horns on top and the irregular shape of the peg underneath that you can’t always see. It’s a devious bit of puzzling that requires you to keep respinning and maneuvering the Minotaur in order to escape. The tight angles and variously placed obstacles make the Minotaur’s horns quite a challenge.

But once you do, the challenge is only half over.

You must now flip the piece upside down, reenter the labyrinth, and navigate your way back to the center.

[Yes, I am posting this picture just to prove I did it.]

This involves learning how to navigate the piece in its new arrangement, and the horns are much harder to judge now that they’re sliding around underneath the maze walls. It really does feel like solving a whole new maze, even though you’ve JUST conquered this one.

It’s brutal, but also immensely impressive to make the same maze twice feel like two totally different challenges. The first part of the puzzle is more like a 3-out-of-5 difficulty, but the second half absolutely earns the 4-out-of-5 difficulty rating on the box.

Caesar’s Codex and Minotaur’s Labyrinth are both available through Project Genius as well as certain online retailers.

Whether you’re looking for a deduction puzzle or a mechanical challenge, one of these impressive brain teasers from Project Genius is sure to hit the spot. And both are part of this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, coming soon, so be sure to check it out!

[Note: I received a free copy of each brain teaser in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]


Trick or treating is over, but there’s no trick here. Treat yourself to some delightful deals on puzzles. You can find them on the Home Screen for Daily POP Crosswords and Daily POP Word Search! Check them out!

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

The PN Blog 2020 Countdown!

It’s the final blog post of the year, so what do you say we revisit all of 2020 with a countdown of my ten favorite blog posts from the past year!


#10 Farewell, Keith

I don’t mean to start off this countdown on a sad note by mentioning the loss of fellow puzzler and Penny Dell colleague Keith Yarbrough. Writing this post was incredibly difficult, but I am proud of how it turned out. It served as a valuable part of my healing process, allowing me to immerse myself in nothing but good memories of my friend. Giving other people the opportunity to know Keith like I did was a worthwhile experience.


#9 Tap Code

Exploring the different ways puzzles have been involved in historical moments, either as anecdotes or key aspects, is one of my favorite parts of writing for PuzzleNation Blog. But it’s rare to have a historical story about puzzles that tugs on your heartstrings like this one. The way the Tap code served to keep the spirits of POWs high — and the way that codes and spycraft helped a husband and wife endure the hardships of separation — made this a post with a lot of depth and humanity.

#8 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide

Every year, one of my favorite activities is putting together our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide. I get to include the best products sent to me for review by top puzzle and game companies, mix in some of my own favorites, and draw attention to terrific constructors, game designers, and friends of the blog, all in the hopes of introducing solvers (and families of solvers) to quality puzzles and games.

#7 Crossword Commentary

There’s more to writing about crosswords than simply solving puzzles and unraveling clues, and that was especially true this year. The social and cultural aspect of crosswords came up several times, and it’s important to discuss these issues in an open, honest way, even if that means calling out a toxic presence like Timothy Parker, or even questioning the choices of the biggest crossword in the world to hold them accountable.

Whether it was exploring representation in crossword entries and cluing or continuing to debate cultural sensitivity in crossword answers in the major outlets, we took up the torch more than once this year because it was the right thing to do.


#6 Best Puzzle Solvers

Last year, we began a series of posts examining the best puzzle solvers in various realms of pop culture, and I very much enjoyed combing through the worlds of horror movies and television for the sharpest minds and most clever problem solvers.

This series continued in 2020, as we delved into literature (for adult readers, young adult readers, AND younger readers, respectively), as well as compiling a list of the worst puzzle solvers in pop culture. We even graded the skills of different fictional crossword constructors to see who was representing the best and worst in puzzle construction in media!

xwd bingo 1

#5 Crossword Bingo

One of the most clever deconstructions of the medium of crosswords I came across this year was a bingo card a solver made, highlighting words and tropes that frequently appear in modern crosswords. It was a smartly visual way of discussing repetition and pet peeves, but also a sly bit of commentary. So naturally, we couldn’t resist making our own Crossword Bingo card and getting in on the fun.

#4 Pitches for Crossword Mysteries

Hallmark’s Crossword Mysteries series was one of the most noteworthy crossovers between puzzles and popular media last year, and that continued into this year with the third Crossword Mysteries film, Abracadaver. But we couldn’t get the idea of a fourth film — still promised on IMDb and other outlets — out of our heads, so we ended up pitching our own ideas for the fourth installment in the franchise. Writing this, no joke, was one of my favorite silly brainstorming sessions of the entire year.


#3 The World of Puzzles Adapts

Even in a post celebrating the best, the most satisfying, the most rewarding, and the most enjoyable entries from 2020, you cannot help but at least mention the prevailing circumstances that shaped the entire year. 2020 will forever be the pandemic year in our memories, but it will also be the year that I remember puzzlers and constructors adapting and creating some of the most memorable puzzle experiences I’ve ever had.

From the initial experiment of Crossword Tournament From Your Couch to the creation of the Boswords Fall Themeless League, from tournaments like Boswords and Lollapuzzoola going virtual to the crew at Club Drosselmeyer creating an interactive puzzly radio show for the ages, I was blown away by the wit, ambition, determination, and puzzle-fueled innovation brought to the fore this year.


#2 Eyes Open

Earlier this year, we made a promise to all of the people standing up for underrepresented and mistreated groups to do our part in helping make the world better for women, for people of color, and for the LGBTQIA+ community. We launched Eyes Open, a puzzle series designed to better educate ourselves and our fellow solvers about important social topics. And that is a promise we will carry into 2021. We hope that, in some small way, we are contributing to a better, more inclusive world.


#1 Fairness

Part of the prevailing mindset of PuzzleNation Blog is that puzzles can and should be for everyone. They should be fun. And they should be fair.

So this year, two posts stood out to me as epitomizing that spirit. The first was a discussion of intuitive vs non-intuitive puzzles, which I feel is very relevant these days, given the proliferation of different puzzle experiences like escape rooms out there.

The second, quite simply, was a response to a friend’s Facebook post where she felt guilty for looking up answers she didn’t know in a crossword, calling it “cheating.” I tried to reassure her there was no such thing as cheating in crosswords.

And since I couldn’t decide between these two posts for the top spot in our countdown, I’m putting them both here, because I feel like they represent a similar spirit. I hope you feel the same.

Thanks for spending 2020 with us, through brain teasers and big ideas, through Hallmark mysteries and Halloween puns, through puzzle launches and landmark moments. We’ll see you in 2021.

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5 Questions for Game Designer Ellie Dix

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And we’re excited to welcome Ellie Dix as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

I first encountered Ellie Dix after stumbling upon the Kickstarter campaign for The Imp Box, a family-friendly game collection designed to look like a Christmas cracker. (Naturally, it immediately made the list of games to include in this year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide.)

I soon discovered that she, much like this intriguing game set, was far more than meets the eye. Ellie Dix is not only the designer of every game under the Dark Imp umbrella, but she’s also the owner of the company. A puzzle designer, game designer, author, and more, Ellie Dix is a self-made dynamo, representing the entrepreneurial spirit that has grown to define the industry during the modern board game renaissance.

With The Imp Box now available for sale worldwide and a new Kickstarter campaign on the horizon, I have no doubt that Ellie Dix is a name we’ll be hearing about for many years to come.

Ellie was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!

5 Questions for Ellie Dix

1. How did you get started in the games industry?

I’ve been designing games as a hobby for some time, but when I sold my Education company I decided to focus full time on game design and publishing. Before that I’d used games in teaching and training. I’ve also been a hobby board gamer myself for a long time (and my parents before me). So when I finally made the switch, I just jumped in with both feet. I wrote a book called The Board Game Family: Reclaim your Children from the Screen, which came out in July 2019. My first games were published in November 2019. Since then it’s been a full on schedule of design, development and publication.

How has your experience been as a woman designing games and running a board game company, either in terms of challenges or general insight from your perspective?

Honestly, I expect the challenges have been very similar to those that a person of any other gender would experience. The board gaming community is so inclusive that my own gender seems completely irrelevant. I do, however, realise that I’m in the minority in this industry. I suppose the only thing of note is that I’ve been approached several times by other cis-females who’ve commented that they’re pleased to see the success of another woman in the industry. So clearly it can be helpful to others to see a woman doing what I’m doing.

2. What’s the key to a great family-friendly game?

Getting something that the kids and the adults will all want to play. Family games aren’t children’s games. Family games have to hook in and hold the interest of everyone. For me – complexity isn’t always an issue. Kids can cope with all sorts of levels of complexity. But making sure the game is fairly fast-paced is important. I don’t mean short, necessarily, but minimising downtime is crucial. Games with simultaneous play, actions for passive players or very quick turns work well. The theme has to hook the family in too!

3. We’re currently in the midst of a board game renaissance, with greater exposure than ever for all sorts of games and play styles. What’s one trend in the industry you’d like to see more of and what’s one trend you’d like to see less of?

I love asymmetric games and I’d love to see more of them. Games with varying player powers or factions. This increases replayability. I’ve recently created an asymmetric family game – Uranus! – which is currently in the final of the Board Game Workshop’s annual design contest.

For me, I struggle to get into the big campaign games (Pandemic Legacy, The King’s Dilemma, Gloomhaven). I suspect there are too many on the market for the people who are playing them to actually play. They’re often too much work for regular gamers and families to get into.

4. What’s next for Ellie Dix?

I’m developing a range of roll & write PnP games for any number of players. These are all games that can be played by zoom. I’ve got several out already and they’ve been going great guns during the lockdowns. More are coming out before Christmas. Uranus! will be coming to Kickstarter in early March 2021. I’m also working on some exciting school projects next year! It’s going to be another busy year.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, aspiring game designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

It’s easy to get paralysed by perfectionism. Very few great games started out as a great games. Be brave and just put your game out there, as early as you can, with any sort of back-of-the-cereal packet prototype you can. Find a great playtesting group full of other designers (not friends and family) or create one yourself.

The playtesting process is so vital to development. It’s a waste of time to make sure all the cards are perfectly balanced before you get it in front of people. You could spend weeks on a game that ultimately nobody wants to play. A playtesting group will help you to find the fun and ultimately make a better game.

A huge thank you to Ellie for her time. You can follow her on Twitter for updates on all things Dark Imp, and be sure to check out her puzzles and games through Instagram, YouTube, her game blog, and of course, the Dark Imp website. Whatever she cooks up next, you know it’s going to be great.

Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

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PuzzleNation Product Review: Homeworlds

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

One of the coolest moments in a board game player’s life comes when you’re immersed in a game, and someone walks by, stops, and simply must ask, “What is that?” Because you’re showing them something new.

Homeworlds got that reaction the very first time I played it at the office. A coworker walked by, saw what is essentially an array of colorful triangles on the table, and asked the question. They didn’t know what it was, but they were intrigued.

Honest praise doesn’t come much higher than that, does it?

Homeworlds is a difficult game to review, because there’s so much to cover. The rules are expansive and complex, even though the elements are simple. It’s three sets of Looney Pyramids each in four different colors: red, blue, green, and yellow. And yet, it might be the most involved, complicated game we’ve ever reviewed on PN Blog.

And to be fair, we’re going to spend way less time than usual covering the rules. There’s simply too much to explore, and to be frank, throwing a novella of rules at you doesn’t tell you about the game and why it’s worth your time.

So let’s try it a little differently today.

Homeworlds is chess plus Risk set in space. But unlike those games — or basically any strategy games with territory control and resource management elements — which require lots of different pieces and a host of tabletop real estate to enjoy, Homeworlds can easily be toted around and played on any flat surface. And it still manages to encapsulate all the complexity, variety, and tactical planning of those games.

You and your opponent are both playing spacefaring races that are trying to wipe the other player’s influence from the universe. You can do so by eliminating their fleets (through capture or destruction), destroying their Homeworld, or forcing them to leave their Homeworld defenseless.

There are specific rules governing how you build your fleet, how you travel to different star systems, and what you can do when you arrive there. These are all dictated by the colors of the ships in your fleet, which allow you to build new ships, travel, attack, or transform ships (swapping them out for ones with different abilities).

Any pieces not currently in use by the players sit in a communal bank, waiting to be pulled and deployed as either new star systems or new ships. (I love this aspect of the game. It’s like every time you travel to a new star system, you pull that place out of the ether and place it onto the table in front of you. You essentially make each game space you need to use.)

The communal bank adds a third player of sorts to the table, since you must always keep an eye on the bank to not only manage your resources but prevent your opponent from capitalizing on your moves. For instance, you must pull the smallest sized pyramid available for a given color. But size of the pieces does matter. So if you impulsively pull the last small green pyramid, you’ve left the bank open for your opponent to grab a medium or a large pyramid, leaving them with a more powerful ship than you.

Trust me, it’s a lot to take in at once, like the first time you play chess and you’re overwhelmed trying to remember how the little horse-shaped ones move while all the other pieces are doing their own thing. Unless you watch a detailed how-to video, your first few games of Homeworlds are going to be a wash. Because, like chess or Risk, there are important steps you need to take first before you can really get into the game.

But those early learning sessions are still great fun. You slowly drink in all the rules. You figure out choosing your Homeworld can affect the entire scope of the game (by determining how many or how few spaces away your opponent’s homeworld is). You puzzle out devious little tricks like sacrificing one ship in order to take multiple actions, sometimes even undoing that sacrifice in the same term, like you’ve built a perpetual motion machine or found a loophole in the rules.

As the game progresses, what was an overwhelming jumble of complexity becomes an elegantly balanced logic tree of possible options unfolding in front of you.

Catastrophes you might have accidentally caused in earlier games — or studiously avoided in later ones — become tactical moves you intentionally inflict in order to tilt the battle in your favor. Any reader who has sacrificed a piece in chess in order to capture a more important piece from their opponent knows exactly what we mean here.

That fluidity of play, the endless potential to affect the game, makes Homeworlds as exciting and dynamic as possible. In Risk, for example, one country is always the same number of moves from another. But in Homeworlds, an aggressive play can make the trip from your Homeworld to your opponent’s Homeworld perilously quick.

This game will undoubtedly be daunting at first. The instructional booklet alone is two or three times bigger than that of any other Looney Labs game I can think of. But when you get past that, you’ll find a game that is endlessly rich, challenging, and satisfying, one where every new game feels like a positive step forward.

You get to look out at that same eye-catchingly baffling array of colors and shapes that made someone stop and ask you “what is that?” and in an instant, you see moves, countermoves, chances to be taken, and gambits to be foiled.

And that’s pretty cool.

I don’t think there’s another game in the expansive Looney Pyramids library that gets so much out every aspect of the pyramids. The color, size, and arrangement of each is absolutely essential to the gameplay, and choosing the wrong pyramid at the wrong moment could be the difference between victory and defeat.

Homeworlds perfectly captures everything great about strategy games, tosses aside extraneous game boards, tokens, and pieces, and delivers a killer play experience at a fraction of the price.

[Homeworlds is available from Looney Labs and select online vendors for $20, and is part of PuzzleNation’s 2020 Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, so be sure to check out this game and other offerings from Looney Labs in this year’s edition of the Gift Guide!]

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Kickstarter Alert! Check Out Fireball Newsflash Crosswords!


One of the coolest parts about assembling each year’s Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide is reaching out to crossword constructors I admire and respect. Not only do I get to find out what projects they’ve been working on and would like to promote, but they’re also incredibly giving to fellow constructors, shouting out the subscriptions, puzzle books, and projects that they most enjoyed solving during the year.

The bulk of the puzzle books/subscriptions section of the Gift Guide comes from these constructor interactions and the praise they heap upon each other. Not only is it heartwarming to read, but it’s valuable information for me and the PuzzleNation readership. After all, who better to tell you about great puzzles out there than top-notch constructors who know puzzling inside and out?

There are a host of brilliant recommendations in the Gift Guide, but today I’d like to shout-out one of my favorite yearly puzzle subscriptions. It’s launching on Kickstarter today for a new “season” of topical puzzles, and you should definitely check it out.

It’s Peter Gordon’s 2021 edition of Fireball Newsflash Crosswords.

Now, most crossword solvers probably know Fireball Crosswords by reputation alone. The puzzles are challenging (equivalent to a Friday or Saturday NY Times puzzle), but incredibly fun, inventive, and cleverly clued. Several of my all-time favorite crosswords have been published through Fireball Crosswords.

Fireball Newsflash Crosswords, on the other hand, are not nearly as difficult, so puzzlers who might find traditional Fireball Crosswords daunting can breathe easy.

Plus Fireball Newsflash Crosswords carry their own unique flavor by being as up-to-date and fresh as possible. Each puzzle is absolutely peppered with current references. Important news events, pop culture happenings, celebrity passings, memes, buzzwords, and cultural fads have all appeared in these grids in the past.

For example, after the 2017 Oscars had their snafu with the Best Picture award winner, Gordon mentioned LA LA LAND as Best Picture winner, then “corrected” himself later in the grid with the true winner MOONLIGHT. It was a lovely little playful jab at an awkward and noteworthy moment in time.


And that sort of quick-turnaround puzzling and topicality simply cannot be matched by the major outlets.

For just $13, you’ll get 20 such puzzles delivered to you by email, one puzzle every 2 or 3 weeks.

And with this Kickstarter, you can pledge for not just the newest season of Fireball Newsflash Crosswords, but hats, keychains, additional puzzles and puzzle magazines, and more.

I cannot say enough good things about this project, and I’m happy to spread the word to my fellow puzzle lovers. Take a moment and check out this worthwhile project. There are even sample puzzles to try out, so you know exactly what you’re signing up for and supporting.

Good luck, Peter! Cannot wait to see what you cook up for us in the coming year!

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You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!